Top-Down Smackdown: Begun, These Wednesday Night Wars Have


So never mind the Monday night wars, in which the two biggest wrestling promotions used to go head to head and force viewers to choose, or, more likely, flip back and forth. Now, on Wednesdays, we have four different wrestling brands, though two of them are theoretically there to help each other. Thanks to DVR and on-demand, however, there need be no “war” – the only thing stopping fans from seeing every show in its entirety is time (which, for me, is a not-insignificant factor).

Having only just figured out where El Rey is on my guide, I only got to see three out of out of four of last week’s offerings: the Destination America debut of Ring of Honor, TNA Impact Wrestling, and WWE NXT. So how do they fare when compared head-to-head?

The biggest surprise to me was that NXT felt the least accessible – and that’s to me, a guy, who watches WWE every week. So many questions remain, with champion Kevin Owens being built up to face John Cena on a different roster and show, Finn Balor on the regular program, and I guess Samoa Joe, though he got barely a mention after his recent big debut. And what’s the deal with Balor anyways? Half the time he’s painted up like Venom with dreadlocks, then sometimes he just comes out looking like a normal dude. Not to mention that there is no accent over the “a” in the Irish spelling of “Balor” – if there were, it would be pronounced “baller.” And what’s with William Regal coming out looking like he has hives and contusions all over his face when announcing the NXT matches for the Japan show?

I did like the in-ring action better on this weekly show than at the last special event – too often at the NXT showcases, I feel like the competitors are just showing off their high spots, and I don’t “believe” that I’m watching two guys who each want to take the other person out. The fights on this show played out more like actual grudges.

Still, even as a viewer of Raw, I don’t really know who Kevin Owens is, beyond the fact that he has a Canadian accent and a kid who likes John Cena? What am I rooting for, or against, here?

Now, with TNA, on the other hand, despite whatever other issues I may have with the show, I give them BIG points for quickly establishing who Ethan Carter III is, why he’s important, and why I should be rooting against him. And considering I never heard of him before, that’s exactly what they needed to do. Yes, the opening promo was overlong, Russo-esque and could have done without the god-damned barbershop quartet. But it got him over, and impressed me with what a monster the former Brodus Clay – now Tyrus, with the word “Kaiju” on his tights – can be when he’s not given a dorky dance gimmick.

I also quickly got a sense of who Rock Star Spud is and what his issues are – could do without the blatant rip-offery of TNA’s version of Money in the Bank, but whatever. I’m going to assume the use of Hole songs was achieved via BIlly Corgan calling in favor, and I think the storyline logic of Angelina Love “assaulting a fan” who was in the damn ring is specious and lame. Was Mickie James pushed out of a moving train? That felt like an attempt to be Attitude-era edgy, without being storyline-wise intelligible.

Hooray for the return of the six-sided ring, too. It’s a distinct part of TNA’s identity and they never should have retired it – presumably that was Hulk Hogan’s doing, and dispatched with as quickly as the Huckster’s hair. TNA is at it’s best when it’s doing it’s own thing, and worst when it’s trying to do WWE stuff.

Ring of Honor, which traditionally relies less on storylines and primarily on what happens in the ring, reminded me of the old NWA, in a good way. Darkened arena, fewer but more vocal fans, and characters whose personalities you can basically get the feel for just by looking at them. Though the company is clearly in the middle of a pay-per-view buildup, they didn’t need to give us endless flashback montages to explain why Jay Lethal hates Jay Briscoe. They did overuse the “cowardly heel backs out of a match and replaces himself with a lame substitute” bit TWICE, which was once too often, at least…but it did quickly convey who the good and bad guys were, and considering I went in with memories of Lethal as a fan favorite, that was necessary.

Ring of Honor feels like “the minor leagues” in the best way – it has the vibe of a scrappy, old-school promotion. I could do without the paper streamers – they’d be great for one character-specific entrance, but not every one – but I long to see more classic manager types hitting people with their shoes, evil Soviet-era Russians, and ninjas. I believe they could happen here.

Most important for all three is that they maintain their own identity. WWE is pretty clear about how NXT is different, but I would actually prefer they stay away from too many cross-roster angles like Cena vs. Owens – if Owens is ready for Raw, keep him there. ROH needs to stay scrappy, and be a modern-day UWF – if they can do that, I’ll keep watching. As for TNA, I don’t know why they still seem to have identity issues – but they should stop seeing themselves as direct WWE competition, and be fine with being a regional powerhouse. After all, the way you get guys like Kurt Angle, who didn’t want to tour any more, is by staying put.

Now you tell me: who won your Wednesday night war?

Or we can just talk Raw. Y’all call it.